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North Korean Nuclear Deal Called Into Question  

I’m Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

On Monday, six nations signed an agreement in Beijing that would end North Korea’s nuclear arms program. But North Korea almost immediately demanded a civilian nuclear power station before it would destroy its nuclear weapons.

The agreement was reached after two years of negotiations among North Korea, the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. The agreement says North Korea will end its nuclear arms program in exchange for economic aid and security guarantees.

North Korea agreed to return to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and again permit international inspectors to make sure its nuclear arms program has ended. North Korea also received recognition of its desire to keep a civilian nuclear program for electric power production.

This will involve building what is called a light-water reactor. And the agreement says the nations will discuss building light-water reactors at the right time. But it does not say when that will be.

One day later, on Tuesday, North Korea announced that it will not end its nuclear arms program until it gets light-water reactors from the United States. The Bush administration has rejected this kind of negotiating.

The American State Department reacted by saying that North Korea should carefully think about the agreement that it signed. Japan called North Korea’s demand unacceptable.

China said it expects all the nations involved to carry out their responsibilities in a serious way. South Korea said it would support North Korea’s desire for peaceful nuclear energy on two conditions. One is that the country must first rejoin the non-proliferation treaty. The other is that it must bring back United Nations inspectors.

American diplomats have praised the agreement because it shows that the five countries other than North Korea can agree on a plan. They say the importance of the agreement includes promises by North and South Korea to improve ties. It also includes promises from Japan and the United States to move closer to normal relations with North Korea.

And they say it shows the great influence of China as North Korea’s main ally. China also supplies most of North Korea’s food and fuel.

Yet experts also criticized the agreement because it does not go into detail or provide time limits. One expert said North Korea apparently thinks the right time to discuss the civilian power question is before it takes any steps to end its nuclear arms program. The United States says the right time is after North Korea ends its nuclear arms program or takes the first steps toward disarming.

Some experts say the North Korean demand is a sign that its government is not serious about ending its nuclear arms program. However, representatives of the six nations are to meet again in November to continue discussions.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. Our reports are on the Web at I’m Steve Ember.